Are You Making These Deer Hunting Mistakes?

Are you making these deer hunting mistakes when you ground hunt?

Successful deer hunting is difficult.  Hunting deer on the ground is even more difficult.  Unsuccessful hunters tend to make the same mistakes over and over.  The more they make them, the more frustrated they become, which leads to even more mistakes.  Let the LocaCarnivore show you the way to increased deer hunting success when you hunt on the ground.

Two Ways to Get Your Deer

Deer hunting technique is divided into two main methods.  Either you sit on a small platform lashed high up in a tree and wait for something to wander within shooting range (ambush hunting), or you stalk these tasty beasts with your feet on the ground.  The tree stand method is most common east of the Mississippi in the United States.  Ground hunting, also called “spot and stalk,” is more prevalent in the western U.S.  Although this is not a hard and fast rule.  We lump ground blinds in with tree stands since both are ambush strategies so we won’t cover blinds in this article.

For a real challenge, get out of that tree stand and hunt deer on the ground!

Tree Stand Hunting is Easier

A deer is much less likely to see you up in a tree stand.  They don’t think much in three dimensions since they evolved to avoid large ground predators rather than raptors which could swoop down from above.  Unless you make a sudden move or unnatural sound in your tree stand, a deer will not look up to find you.  The biggest challenge with tree stand hunting is scent control since you cannot maneuver to remain upwind from a deer.  Deer will approach most areas from the down wind, and if they smell you, they will leave in a hurry.

What Makes Ground Hunting So Difficult?

Several factors conspire to make ground (spot and stalk) deer hunting difficult.

On the ground you are now in a deer’s visual detection envelope unlike in a tree stand.  Deer see the world in different ways from humans.  Their eyes focus on a wide area, as opposed to humans and other predators whose eye focus area (the fovia) perceives just a narrow cone to the eye’s front.  Deer can detect objects–and motion in particular–180 degrees, or more, around them.  This is how they can dash through thick brush and not get tangled or poked in the eye.  They detect the smallest motion and are programmed to run before they think about what just moved.  Not unlike a horse.  Deer also see well into the ultra-violet light spectrum.  Thus, they have great vision in low light and shades of blue pop out from the background like a neon sign.  In a stand or blind you remove this advantage from the deer.  On the ground you are smack-bang in in their sights.

Deer also have fantastic hearing–just look at those big ears which funnel even a pine needle’s drop into their ear drums.

Wide-focus eyes, large ears, and an alert nose are a deer’s sensor array which make ground hunting a challenge.

Then there’s the deer’s nose.  While not as talented as a dog’s or bear’s, it is quite capable and will pick up scents from hundreds of yards away.

These factors conspire against the ground hunter.  When you hunt on the ground, you must move to find the deer.  Movement creates both visual and auditory noise which a deer can detect, and if they detect you, they can escape.  Plus, if they smell you from far enough away, they will slip out before you know they are there.

Then there’s the terrain.  Deer in the Western U.S. live in some difficult to access areas–and they like that way.  Often a hunter must trudge up steep mountains, negotiate frigid streams or rivers, and cover open or sparely vegetated ground which gives deer long sight lines and ample warning.

The Most Common Deer Ground Hunting Mistakes

Hunters can make many mistakes, but there are a few which cause the most trouble.  They fall under several broad categories: movement discipline, noise discipline, camouflage discipline, and light discipline.

If those terms sound a bit militaristic, it’s because the same principles which govern ground combat govern hunting.  As an aside, in Medieval times, warriors considered hunting the best preparation for combat as far as learning and implementing tactics.  Although in hunting, your opponent doesn’t shoot back.

If you want to become a good ground hunter, learn the basic skills taught to special operations soldiers. (USAF, Public Domain)

Unsuccessful deer hunters violate one or all of these principles and they do it over and over.  They don’t know how to move in deer country.  They make unnatural noises; wear the wrong clothes; shine or glint; don’t know how to read or compensate for the wind; don’t use the terrain to their advantage, and don’t know how all this affects deer behavior and capabilities.

Let’s look at each factor one at a time and discover how to do things right.

Movement Discipline

It is not enough to know how to move without attracting attention.  A ground deer hunter must know where and when to move as well.  We could write an entire book about movement, but let’s just cover the basics.

Unsuccessful hunters move too fast, too often, and too big.  Most people in the U.S. grow up in urban environments which demand people get from place to place in a hurry and no one cares if your arms and legs flail about about as you do it.  This training follows them into the hunting field and spoils their deer hunts.

In deer country, before you move any body part, you must look around.  No, look real hard.  Now ask yourself a few questions.  Am I visible from anywhere?  Must I move?  Must I move now?  What do I want to accomplish with this movement?  How visible will this movement make me?  What is the smallest movement I can make and still accomplish my goal?

Keep your steps short and slow.  Set your feet down slow and gentle as possible.  Move from shadow to shadow, avoid lighted spaces.  Keep some cover behind you (deer have trouble discerning objects against cluttered backgrounds).  Move from tree to tree or bush to bush but don’t get too close to them so you can see around them as much as possible.

Keep your arms close to your body.  If, for instance, you have to scratch your nose, move your hand slowly along the front of your body as though you were zipping up your coat and then back down the same way.  Avoid large, sweeping movements with your limbs.  Scan with your eyes rather than swiveling your head a lot.

If you stumble or just go stupid and make a big movement, freeze.  Wait, watch, and listen for a few minutes to detect if you disturbed the environment.

Don’t use talc puff bottles to track the wind.  Turn your head side to side real slow and feel which side of your face is coolest–that’s the wind direction.

A great way to learn deer hunting is to spend as much time as possible in deer habitat and watch how they move.

Despite what we just said, you must not go too far down the sneaky movent rabbit hole, though.  If a deer does see you as you slink along in a cat-like prowl, the deer will think you’re a predator and treat you thus.  Better to move slow but not crunched down or overly cautious.  If a deer does make you, the best option is to freeze, which is what deer often do in similar circumstance.  Watch the deer with your peripheral vision, do not stare directly at it or make eye contact, this is predator behavior.  Note the wind.  If the deer does not smell you, there is a good chance it won’t dash off right away.  Once the deer relaxes, you can formulate a new movement plan based on the deer’s behavior.

Noise Discipline

Poor hunters make too much noise and the wrong noise.  While the ideal is to become a super-stealth Ninja who is silent, from a practical stand point any time you move in the forest or a field you will make some noise.  The trick is to make noise which makes sense in the environment.  If you watch animals move around, you’ll notice they are far from quiet.  They bump things, snap twigs, rustle grass, etc.  The one thing they don’t do, however, is make loud, unusual noises.

Unsuccessful hunters make loud, unnatural noises.  They clang, clack, slap, and ring.  The biggest culprits are their clothes and gear.  Before you set out on a hunt, perform a “jump test.”  Get all your gear on then jump up and down a few inches and listen.  Did anything make an unnatural noise such as keys in your pocket, pack straps, loose ammo, etc?  Fix those noise makers.  Relocate them, remove them, tie or tape them down.  You do carry a small roll of OD green, black, or camo duct tape and some paracord, don’t you (hint)?

Before you head into the field on a hunt, perform a “jump test” to determine if your gear is noisy.

The main concern here is to eliminate unnatural noise.  As we stated earlier, you will make some noise as you move through the environment as do the other animals.  Just try to minimize this collateral noise.  Avoid stepping over logs–you boot can thump against them.  Walk on grass rather than rock or hard dirt where possible.  Avoid crunchy, crusted-over snow and thin ice on puddles.

Again, if you make a sudden, loud noise, freeze, observe, and then plan your next actions.

Camouflage Discipline

By camouflage discipline, we don’t mean do you have on the latest high-tech, “guaranteed” invisible camo clothing.  Rather, this refers to how your clothes are perceived by deer and what mistakes unsuccessful hunters make in this area.

Deer don’t care much what you wear.  In fact, camo pattern clothing can make you look blocky to them, and make you stand out more than just plain earth-tone colors such as khaki or olive drab green.  As we said before, their main concern is movement, not color or shape, per se.

The one color you must avoid at all costs, however, is blue.  If you recall, deer see far into the ultra-violet.  Blue tones stand out as if lit with neon.  Experts who study deer vision claim even blue under garments or socks can bleed through your outer layers and attract a deer’s attention.

It is a myth that wearing hunter orange spooks deer. Deer care more about movement and scent than color. (Creative Commons License, Wisconsin DNR)


What about bright hunter orange?  It is a non-issue for deer.  They just don’t care about it.  I stood stone-still inside a deer herd once with blaze orange vest and hat glowing like a nuclear test site and until the deer smelled me, they didn’t even notice.  Wear.  Your.  Orange.  It’s safer for you and won’t spook the deer.

Light Discipline

This goes hand in hand with camouflage discipline.  Poor hunters have shiny bits all over them.  They turn on white light flashlights to see maps and where they’re going.  They turn on their phones and light up the place with the screens.  Don’t do these stupid things.  If you need to read a map or consult your GPS/phone, kneel down, pull a poncho, coat, or blanket over you so it seals all the way to the ground, and then turn on the light.  Plus, keep one eye closed so you don’t lose all your low-light adapted vision when you stare at the bright white light.  It doesn’t hurt to have a flashlight with a red light mode either.  Even if some light leaks out from your improvised tent, it is much less noticeable than white or blue light.

The Successful Hunter

Successful deer hunters don’t make these stupid mistakes.  Follow the advice we just gave and you’ll improve your chances many times over.  Good hunting…


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